The beach access picture brightened considerably this weekend with the opening of the remaining stretch of outer beach at Smith Point County Park. The easternmost three miles of beach had remained closed while waiting for one remaining plover chick to fledge. It was reopened midday on Saturday, enabling surfcasters to finally access the popular and productive west jetty of Moriches Inlet and structure-rich Great Gun Beach. The beach was opened a week earlier to Cut #2 for day tripping, but closed from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. which eliminated the most productive summertime fishing hours and left many casters feeling shortchanged. Effective with Saturday’s expanded re-opening, you may drive the outer beach to Cut #3 and then ride Burma Road to the inlet. Access is available 24 hours a day, and both the beach and Burma Road are currently in good condition. Following the closure of Brookhaven Town’s Great Gun Beach after Labor Day, the remaining beach from Cut #3 to the inlet will open.

The summer-long closure of this popular stretch of beach due to nesting piping plovers frustrated and angered many beach users, including many who support protecting the plovers but believe that some kind of compromise must be found between their protection and the ability of the public to access the beach. Thousands of people were unable to recreate in a park created for recreation during what should have been the busiest time of the year. Fisherman were further inconvenienced by a policy that closed the park completely at 10 p.m., preventing walk-on anglers from fishing prime late night hours.

Even more disconcerting was the impact of the closure on businesses along William Floyd Parkway which leads directly to the park. Not surprisingly, one of the hardest hit was Smith Point Bait & Tackle which saw business off by more than 50 percent during what should have been their busiest time of the year. So bad was the decline that the angling community held a fundraiser to help offset some of the business lost during the closure. Other businesses severely impacted included a surf shop, beer & soda distributor, delis, gas stations, 7/11, Dunkin Donuts and fast food restaurants along the stretch of William Floyd Parkway between Montauk Highway and the park. Both Congressman Lee Zeldin and Suffolk County Legislator Kate Browning became involved in the issue this summer lending hope that some changes in policy by U.S. Fish & Wildlife and Suffolk County Parks will be made in time to avoid a total beach closure next summer.

A similar situation occurred at Democrat Point in Robert Moses State Park, but access there has also been fully restored with the exception of the Demo Bar west of the jetty rocks. Hopefully that will be opened in time for prime surf fishing season after Labor Day. Gilgo Beach has been closed all year due to erosion rather than plovers, and state Parks has put in a request to Army Corps of Engineers to replenish this stretch of beach not only for access purposes, but equally as important to serve as a buffer to protect nearby Ocean Parkway from storm damage.

Both the county and the state are looking into ways to meet the requirements of a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) put forth by Fish & Wildlife which would ease restrictions on beach use during the piping plover nesting season.